Parenting teenagers can be daunting. Adults remember the challenges of being adolescents themselves, and no amount of money in the world would induce them to go through those years again! The teenage years can be unsparing in difficulty, lasting from ages 8-25.
However, it’s just as challenging (or even more so) to be the parent of a child at this stage of life. Suddenly, your relationship with your adoring child shifts, and you find yourself struggling to relate to a seeming stranger who treats you as an enemy. In the wake of these changes, the entire family struggles to adjust to a new normal.
This article seeks to provide you with helpful tips to navigate the challenging season of parenting teenagers. A quick preview: don’t take things personally, set realistic expectations, understand your underlying goals and purpose, and encourage healthy self-esteem, and we also look at “eight anchors for adolescent growth” from the book Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence by Carl Pickhardt.
Helpful tips can’t make parenting teenagers easy, but implementing them can reduce the stress of this stage of life for you as the parent.
5 Tips for Parenting Teens
1. Don’t take it personally
In Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence, Pickhardt uses the metaphor of a dog turning into a cat to describe a child turning into a teenager. You’ve spent years enjoying the happy companionship of a loyal dog, and then one day you wake up and find out that you’re the owner of a temperamental cat, who has a propensity to sulk in the corner.
When this realization dawns on you, it probably means your child has entered the teen years, and one of the best things you can do is to not take your child’s change in behavior personally.
According to Pickhardt, “Because parenting is a position of partial influence, parents need to limit their sense of responsibility. They can never know enough. They cannot fully protect any more than they can fully prepare.”
It’s hard not to attach a sense of personal worth to the way your child acts or performs, or to the level of success that they have. But your worth as a person and as a parent is not dependent on your child’s success. If you feel that you need to be perfect as a parent, that will probably end up placing pressure on your child to be perfect, which leads to unrealistic expectations of both you and your teen.
Feeling pressured to make sure your child is happy and successful will only lead to feelings of defeat, emptiness, and failure, because challenges and struggles are inevitable in life, and you won’t be able to control each one for your child, especially when he or she reaches the teen years.
Instead of this pressure, try to be a supportive, constant presence in your child’s life during the teen years. Trust the Lord, ask your spouse for support, and rely on other support systems if you need to. Be at peace with doing your best, even if your teenager disagrees with you.
Most teenagers go through a phase of mood swings, differentiating themselves from their family, and challenging authority to varying degrees. This will create unavoidable discomfort for you as the parent. Know that you are not alone during this time.
2. Set healthy and realistic expectations
It’s probably difficult to believe that the person who was once your lovable baby will turn into a teenager who doesn’t want to be around you. In some cases, teenagers don’t act this way, but most will go through a phase of distancing themselves from their parents and family of origin. This is a normal transition; it’s just part of growing up.
Make sure you’re not disciplining your child for behavior that is simply a developmental shift. Have grace on your teenager as he or she deals with mood swings, conflict, changes in communication, and even a propensity towards defiance.
Pickhardt explains five shifts that are a reality for most teenagers and will impact their parents and family life. The first reality is ignorance. During the teen years, kids become more private in their communication with their parents, effectively leaving their parents in the dark about certain aspects of their lives.
The second reality is estrangement. This occurs when a teen differentiates themselves from their family for the purpose of solidifying their individual identity. A teen may become interested in activities outside of daily family life. Abandonment is the third reality of adolescence. Parents often feel abandoned or lonely because their teen wants to spend less time with them.
Control is the fourth reality: “The challenge for these parents is to accept that although they can’t control their son’s or daughter’s choices, they can inform them, asserting influence through communication they make and stands they take.” During childhood, it’s easier for parents to set limits; the teen years require some adjustment.
And finally, the fifth uncomfortable reality is conflict. If there’s a teenager in the house, an increased level of conflict will probably be there as well.
Perhaps you’re thinking boarding school sounds good right about now, but having realistic expectations will make the journey of parenting your teen much easier in the long run. This normalizes your child’s behavior and helps you prepare for future transitions.
3. Understand the purpose
Though it may not feel like it now, this season of life has a purpose. The teenage years are a time of transition—from being completely dependent (as a child) to being independent (as an adult). This process of a child differentiating from their parents and developing a sense of personal identity and responsibility will allow them to be a thriving and productive adult one day.
Of course, this isn’t always fun to think about, but it’s a parent’s responsibility not just to enjoy their children, but to facilitate their development and preparation for adulthood.
The elevated levels of conflict in your home during this time are a natural way to “broker increasing differences between you and your teen, a necessary part of how you get along.” In other words, the conflict is necessary in order for you and your teen to reach a new level of equilibrium in your relationship, one that acknowledges disagreements and different values.
Sometimes you might feel like your teen is defiant for no reason at all, but it’s actually a necessary step in attaining independence and a sense of self.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, change is difficult. Consider the last major transition you went through as an adult. You probably felt uncomfortable, stressed, and anxious. Your teen is feeling that way right now, multiplied several times over, as they navigate a solid decade of constant change. A little empathy from their parents can go a long way toward making this time of life easier.
4. Encourage self-esteem in your teen
This is simpler than it might sound; just find any way you can to speak an encouraging word to your teenager. He or she will probably struggle frequently with discouragement, loneliness, and disappointment, as well as a comparison to others. As the parent, you can be your teen’s safe place—the one person who is guaranteed to build them up and see their potential. Look for ways to share in your teen’s happiness, join their activities, and encourage their dreams.
Whenever a new activity or trend catches your teen’s attention, you should always show an interest in it. Even when they move on or fail to reach a goal, they will in all likelihood cherish the support you offer them. Figure out what is important to them and join in.
5. “Eight Anchors of Adolescent Growth”
These “eight anchors” as outlined by Pickhardt offer a tangible guideline for parents to understand what they can expect from—and cultivate in—their teens.
- Completing homework – Pickhardt describes homework as “work ethic training.” These assignments offer a daily opportunity to complete an often-unpleasant task even when you don’t feel like it (i.e., being disciplined). It also allows your teen to grow in the skill of time management. Having good time management skills and being self-disciplined will set your teen up for success in life.
- Cleaning your room – Learning how to clean and maintain one’s personal space is one of the first steps in preparing for adulthood. It also shows respect for oneself, parental standards, and other members of the household.
- Doing chores – Helping with household tasks is part of being a responsible family member. The parents are not the only ones who should be caring for and maintaining a functioning household. Pickhardt believes that chores should be done regularly, apart from a child being compensated with an allowance.
- Participating in family gatherings and events – Many adolescents will balk at this at some point, preferring to spend time with friends instead, but it’s critical to enforce family participation because it sets an example of valuing these relationships, which usually last much longer than peer friendships.
- Volunteering for community service – Serving in some way on a regular basis allows your teen to get outside of their own experience and thoughts about themselves. It gives them an opportunity to put someone else before themselves.
- Saving money – Money management is another fundamental skill that will be invaluable in the future. While people differ in whether they tend to save or spend, everyone can benefit from learning to show financial restraint, set goals, and manage your own natural tendencies with spending.
- Developing proficiency – Pickhardt states, “Developing proficiency of knowledge of skill nurtures confidence that many adolescents sorely need.” Parents can facilitate this by encouraging their teen to commit to learning a specific skill and develop confidence in that area. It may be in the realm of music, sports, art, or something else. When your teen wants to give up, encourage them to persevere.
- Relating to salient adults – It is a blessing to have godly adults in your teen’s life who set a good example for them. Teenagers need this to offer a contrast to the influence of their immature peers. These adults can be family friends, relatives, teachers, or church leaders who can exert a positive influence on your teen.
Parenting teenagers is a unique stage that can be fun, overwhelming, and exhausting all at once. Some days you might think your child will never get out of this stage, while at other times it will seem like they’re growing up much too quickly.
No matter what stage of the journey you’re on, keep what we’ve covered here in mind:
- Don’t take it personally,
- Set healthy expectations,
- Understand the purpose,
- Encourage self-esteem,
- Establish the Eight Anchors of Adolescence.
Hopefully, these tips have offered some help and hope in your journey of parenting your teen. If you need extra support, don’t hesitate to contact our team of Christian Counselors. We would love to walk alongside you on this journey.
“Window seat,” courtesy of Alexandre Chambon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Growing Up,” courtesy of Suleman Mukhtar, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Strong,” courtesy of Christopher Campbell, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Down,” courtesy of Marcelo Matarazzo, unsplash.com, CC0 License